Winter never seemed to begin, and it never seemed to end. The copious snowfall we usually see never arrived and the chill that most associate with Minneapolis was more cool than cold. The cool lingered until the middle of March. Minimal snowfall means good things for fishing, but bad things for rivers. Without snowmelt, rivers don’t overflow their banks or run fast. This makes for clear water and high visibility for trout. The first six months of 2014 were the wettest in history for the area. Rivers were blown out until June. One day would be clear-ish, the next would be mud. As an eternal optimist, I was pleased to be able to fish in March this year.
Things started slow. Once the Wisconsin early season opened, I loaded up the Subaru and headed east. The first weekend of the month was a was. Fish were still sluggish from the winter. I saw one fish rise all day. Progress. The second weekend was better. Multiple fish were rising, but these ones were tiny–we’re talking 4-6″ range here. Still, progress. By the third weekend, hatches were on. Standing in a slow pool, a soup of midges, stonies and olives would drift past. Finally, I could discard nymphs for once and fish a dry fly. Finally.
Fishing was a big part of my life growing up. My parents liked to spend every weekend at our cabin in western Wisconsin. All year. During the spring, summer and fall months, I would take out the boat and spend all day on the lake, reeling in bass, crappies and northern pike. As long as I had a fishing pole and a pack of Twizzlers, I was happy. The winter was different. I would load up a sled with an auger, tip-ups and jigs behind a snowmobile and head to the middle of our frozen lake. This was still fishing, but I couldn’t do it all day. The longest I could last was two hours. Freezing my ass off didn’t help, but the biggest detracting factor for me and ice fishing is boredom. I need to be moving and active. Nymphing is my fly fishing equivalent to ice fishing. There is nothing better for me than casting a dry fly for a rising fish. Nothing.
Phil and I arrived at a place I had never been. It was south of the town of El Paso. The two of us fished at the next crossing to the north last fall, which is a couple miles up the river. Fifty-foot limestone faces met the river. The river was a string of emerald pools. Fast water, pool, fast water, pool, etc. The howling wind from the east was quelled by the half-canyon wall to our east. The March sun was shining on our backs. Fish were rising. It was a good day.
We found a section where fast water met a pool. The bottom was difficult to see, but it looked to be a good six feet deep. It is unusual for Driftless rivers to have fast water at this depth. Phil caught fish there in the past, so I rigged up a copper john and a zebra midge and went to work. An hour, one beer and three snags later, we decided to move on.
I arrived at the next spot with my double-nymph rig. Fish were everywhere. The water here was not nearly as deep as the previous section, so I adjusted my indicator. A fish was rising in a seam near a rock and I casted its way. It was more concerned with what was above the water than what was below. In two instances, it rose directly above my nymphs. Time to switch to a dry fly.
The first bug I tied on was an olive with a small gray foam parachute. Mr. Trout didn’t care for it. Five casts later, I tied on an olive emerger. Finally. Winter has ended and the fish are hungry. Now the fishing season can begin.